Coffee Pot Cellars: Time for a Chat

October 15, 2021

Watch for the large dinosaur—excuse me—wine-o-saur on their lawn to find Coffee Pot Cellars’ tasting room.  Made from corks inserted into a wire frame, this not-yet-completed structure symbolizes the quirky charm of this little winery.  When you walk in, you will get an enthusiastic greeting from Laura Klahre, the wife of winemaker Adam Suprenant, and possibly also from their little black pug, Beasley.  Beasley, however, is less enthusiastic these days, as his age of fourteen has begun to take its toll, and he was fast asleep during our recent visit. 

Though we last visited Coffee Pot (named for the lighthouse near Orient Point—and no, they do not serve coffee) in November 2019, Laura immediately recognized us, and included us in the conversation she was having with another couple, who also had not been there for a long time, about an amusing incident they had witnessed.  Several new customers came in while we were there, and, since they all opted to sit outside on the wrap-around porch, we had Laura to ourselves for much of our visit.  For them, she set up their complete tasting on a labeled tray, while for us she poured each one separately, so we had time to chat. 

According to the chalkboard, a complete tasting includes six of their seven wines for $15: three whites and three reds, but not the rosé.  However, as Laura put it, to acknowledge the tough year we have all had, and because we are on vacation and shouldn’t have to make decisions, the six is actually seven, as she also pours the rosé.  At the moment, she is using “corn plastic”—which is compostable—rather than glass, because their dishwasher is broken.  It would, she confesses, “hurt my soul” to use regular plastic.  That’s because in addition to her work in the tasting room—which is open Friday-Monday—Laura is a beekeeper and environmentalist, and sells her Blossom Tree Farm honey in the tasting room.  She also makes award-winning jam—we bought a jar of blueberry—and has a project to plant milkweed to help stem the decimation of the monarch butterfly population.  On our last visit, Beasley was wearing little monarch wings to promote this last project, but he’s getting too old to parade around in a costume.

As we sipped and chatted, we noted how much we like the wines, as well as the conversation!  And when we left, we took with us, in addition to the jam, a bottle of the Meritage and another of the rosé.

  •  2019 Sauvignon Blanc                 $21.99

Aged in stainless steel, this has a lovely aroma of melon and flowers, and is quite tasty.  We get lemon/lime, but it is more fruity than tart, though it is dry.  As with most North Fork sauvignon blancs, this would be lovely with some clams or oyster.

  • 2015 Chardonnay           $19.99

I was a bit leery of this, since it is oak aged, but then Laura noted that it is aged in fourteen-year-old barrels—in other words, neutral oak—so I took a sip.  Very nice.  Though you do get a bit of that I -chewed-on-my-pencil taste, overall it is more lemony than oaky. 

  • 2017 Gewürztraminer   $21.99

Thanksgiving is coming, so we discussed what a good wine gewürztraminer is for that holiday, because it is so versatile.  It also has enough taste to stand up to turkey, cranberry sauce, etc.  This is a dry one, which is good for me, with lovely honeysuckle aromas and tastes of pineapple and nutmeg.

  • 2020 Rosé          $24.99

A blend of 95% cabernet sauvignon and 5% merlot, this is a rosé with more oomph than most, with lovely aromas and flavors of strawberry.  This is also dry, and we got into a conversation about dry versus sweet wines, since one person had come in asking, did they have any sweet wines.  I suggested that she could offer them this rosé because, though it is dry, it has lots of fruit, which might read sweet to some.

  • 2016 Beasley’s Blend     $21.99

Laura observed to another customer who had come in and opted to just taste the reds, that her husband loves making reds.  That shows, as all three reds are better than the average North Fork ones.  Beasley apparently likes Bordeaux wines, as this is a Bordeaux blend of 58% merlot, 31% cabernet franc, 6% petit verdot, and 5% cabernet sauvignon.  It smells like cherries, no doubt the effect of the merlot, and is a soft and very drinkable red, with tastes of plums and chocolate.

  • 2014 Merlot      $25.99

If you buy a bottle of this, they plant more milkweed to help the monarchs, as a little blackboard keeps track of them.  Aged 18 months in French oak, this is a fairly typical North Fork merlot, with cherry flavor and aroma. 

  • 2015 Meritage  $28.99

Yum.  We bought a bottle of this to put in our cellar, as it is too good for just weeknight hamburgers.  A blend of 83% merlot, 12% cabernet franc, and 5% cabernet sauvignon, this has interesting tastes that include ripe cherries and cocoa and spice.

Reasons to visit:  a quirky little winery that has very good wines; Laura’s conversation and Beasley’s charm; you can also buy jam and honey and other interesting items; all the wines, but especially the rosé and the Meritage; you can bring your dog if you sit outside.

There’s an antique store next door, in case you want to browse.

Mattebella Vineyards: Sunny Sunday in October

October 3, 2021

“It’s such a beautiful day,” my tasting buddy said.  “Can you think of a winery with a nice outside seating area?”  I certainly could, so off we went to Mattebella.  Because it was a Sunday, I did not want to go to any of the bigger wineries, and indeed, as we drove past Pugliese, Osprey, and others we noted their full parking lots and signs promoting “Live Music.”  However, Mattebella was quiet, with a few groups here and there, scattered around their patio and grounds. 

They really don’t have much in the way of inside space, but their patio is very comfortable, with cushy couches and chairs, and pretty, with plantings of hydrangeas and roses.  My husband said,” They get an A for atmosphere.”  The server motioned us over, as we paused at the entrance, and told us we could choose our seats.  We immediately walked over to a nice couch and wicker coffee table set-up, and settled down to look at the menus she handed us.  Okay, here’s one for cheese and charcuterie boards, one for wine-based cocktails, and another for glass and bottle service, but where’s one for a tasting? 

When the waitress returns, we ask, and she informs us that if you want a tasting on the weekend, you have to reserve it in advance, though during the week it’s not a problem.  Is it possible to get a tasting anyway, we asked, gesturing to the almost empty grounds.  Well, okay.  And she brought us a tasting menu.  The menu makes the most of the few varietals they grow, with multiple chardonnays and blends.  You can get a white flight, a red flight, a sparkling flight, a rosé flight, a reserve chardonnay flight, a Library flight (of “special wines from our cellar”), or a Vintner Select Flight (of “our winemaker’s favorite wines”).  We opt for the latter, which is pretty comprehensive, as it includes a sparkling wine, a rosé, two whites and four reds, for $45.  That’s a pretty steep price for a tasting, but it does feature eight wines, and the pour is generous enough that sharing is no problem.

I’m not sure why a tasting on the weekend is such a big deal, since they give you all your wines at once (except for the sparkler, which comes separately).  One more note—they used to allow dogs, but they say they are no longer permitted to. 

The sparkling wine comes in this nice glass.
  •  2013 Blanc de Blancs    $70

The méthode champenoise is very labor intensive, and takes years from harvest to completion, so sparkling wines made this way tend to be more expensive, and this one is no exception.  And it is quite delicious, with aromas of freshly baked bread and tastes of crisp green apple and bread.  However, is it a $70 bottle of wine?  I don’t think so.

  • 2017 Steel Chardonnay $29

Sometimes steel chards have a piney aroma, like an evergreen forest, and this one does, with tastes of mild citrus and green apple.  It is very light, and “not memorable,” according to my tasting companion.

  • 2013 Reserve Chardonnay          $50

As you know if you read my blog, I am not a fan of oaked chardonnays, but this one is only 40% oak-aged, so not bad.  My husband likes it, and says it would be a good sipping wine.  This also has a slight woodsy aroma, with some nice fruit tastes and just a touch of butterscotch.

No actual dogs allowed, but they do have these somewhat ugly statues of dogs.
  • 2020 Rosé          $28

Light, dry…too light and dry.  I like rosés to have some fruit taste, and this has no aroma and almost no taste.

  • Famiglia Red      $35

The lack of a vintage year indicates that this is a blend of various years, as they like to keep the taste of this wine consistent every time.  A blend of merlot and cabernet franc, this is a good wine to have with food, like lamb chops, as it has some tannins.  It has the slight cherry aroma from the merlot grapes, and a pleasant, though uncomplicated, taste of fruit and olives.

  • 2011 Old World Blend   $65

Our waitress proudly points out that this wine and the next were highly rated by Robert Parker, earning scores of 90 and 93.  As I look at the list of grapes used in this blend—merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon—it is clear the “old world” is Bordeaux. My husband takes a sip and says, “This is certainly not bad.”  Again, it has that cherry aroma, plus some tobacco and leather.  It is tasty, I offer, as I sense plums and perhaps a touch of chocolate.

  •  2013 Old World Blend  $91

This is a slightly different blend, with merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot.  My husband notes that it would “stand up to steak,” with good tannins and blackberry flavor.  But when I tell him how much they charge for a bottle, he says, “They’re drinking too much wine.”  That is a problem with small vineyards like this—they have no economies of scale, especially because they are farming sustainably and using machines as little as possible.

  • 2015 Old World Blend   $78

Using the same four grapes as the 2011, this is somehow much better, and my favorite of the day.  Yummy.  The aroma is of cherries and brambles, and the taste includes blackberry and unsweetened chocolate.  It even has “legs,” which indicate possibly more tannins and alcohol than the other blends. If I came here to have a cheese and charcuterie tray and a glass of wine, this is the one I would get.

I always think it’s nice when they bring me water.

Reasons to visit: beautiful outdoor patio with comfy seating; relaxed, laid-back vibe; the Blanc de Blancs, the Reserve Chardonnay, and the 2015 Old World Blend; menu of cheeses and charcuterie with lots of options; creative wine-based cocktails.  Reasons not to visit: high prices, and the rest room is a rather yucky port-a-pottie.

Jamesport Vineyards: Lunchtime!

September 30, 2021

Our friends were coming to visit us for the first time since before the pandemic began, so we were eager to spend some time together.  Often, we’ve done a tasting and then gone out to dinner, but this time we decided to combine a tasting and lunch.  I’ve been wanting to try the pizzas from Little Oak Wood Fired Kitchen, within Jamesport Vineyard, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. 

I went online and made a reservation, which required a $5 deposit on my credit card per person (promptly refunded when we arrived), for 1:30 on Thursday, the last day of September.  It was a typical fall day, warm in the sun and chilly in the shade, so we planned to sit outside.  However, shortly after being seated, we decided it was too chilly and decamped for a cozy table in an alcove within the tasting room.  The cheerful and attentive server quickly adjusted to our change.  The outside area was always very pleasant, and now it is really attractive, with more seating and pretty flower beds, so I was sorry not to sit out there, but we had a fine time inside, where we had the room mostly to ourselves.  (Outside there were a number of groups of people, including some children.)

We were handed two menus, one for wine and the other for food (the full menu is only available Thursday-Sunday).  I immediately noticed on the wine menu that our favorite Jamesport white, the Albariño, was sold out, as was our favorite red, Mélange de Trois.  Rats.  Our friends prefer whites, and I wanted to try the reds, so we each got a tasting of four wines, for $26, and they got whites and we got reds.  Then we asked for extra glasses so we could share tastes.  That does mean that we did not taste them in the recommended order, but we were served glasses of ice water, which served to cleanse our palates between tastes.

The food menu offers nine different pizzas, with options of additional toppings.  Our friends went with the traditional Margherita ($20), simply sauce, basil, and fresh mozzarella, while we opted for the Fun Guy ($24), topped with mushrooms (fungi, get it?), shallots, spinach, etc.  Both came with thin crusts, blistered around the edges, and were very tasty.  We also got an order of burrata and prosciutto to share to start with, which was delicious, though we had to request a knife so we could share it.  It sat atop a crispy slice of toasted sourdough bread.  They have some other intriguing options, like charred octopus, which I’d like to try some other time.

Burrata and prosciutto on toast

We were having so much fun with our friends, sharing stories of the past year or so, reminiscing about the past, that I have to confess my tasting notes are not as thorough as usual.  However, in general, all the wines were drinkable, but, alas, as is so common on the North Fork, somewhat high priced for the quality.  Here are the wines, in no particular order:

*2018 East End Cabernet Franc    $32

Unlike most reds, this one is fermented in steel rather than oak, which makes it a very light, clean-tasting wine.  This is a good red for someone who is not fond of reds.  Our server noted that it tastes more like a pinot than a cab franc.

The pour was generous enough that we were able to share all our tastes.
  • 2020 Estate Sauvignon Blanc      $37.75

Like most North Fork sauvignon blancs, this is citrusy and dry, a good accompaniment for oysters or clams.

The tasting room is rather small.
  • 2019 East End Field Blend White              $32.50

As I explained to our friends, the name field blend usually means that the grapes were all grown in the same field.  This blend of 32% sauvignon blanc, 32% riesling, 30% chardonnay and 6% albariño was our mutually agreed-upon favorite of the day.  It has a pleasant aroma of honeysuckle, and is both dry and fruity, with some tastes of pear and citrus.  This is a white you could drink with almost any chicken or fish dish, or even pork chops.

  • East End Syrah  $32

Syrah is one of those wines I sometimes like and sometimes do not.  This one falls sort of in the middle.  Our server informed us it has a bit of sauvignon blanc added in to lighten the taste, which it does, since sometimes syrah can be a bit overwhelming.  It has some plum taste, and almost no tannins.

  • 2019 “76” Chardonnay  $37.80

Before I could ask about the name, our server explained that the “76” refers to the particular clone of the chardonnay grape that is used in this wine, in contrast to the other chardonnay on the menu.  They age this in neutral oak barrels, which I explained means barrels that have been used before, so that they impart less of an oaky taste.  I liked this, though in general I prefer steel-aged chards, and found it pleasant, with some tropical fruit taste.

  • 2019 Estate Merlot         $35

Except for the price, I would characterize this as a good pizza wine, again, fairly light, dry, and slightly tannic.  If I came here to have a pizza and a glass of wine, this is the one I would choose.

  • 2019 “95” Chardonnay  $39.27

Ever have Werther’s butterscotch candy?  That’s what this wine reminded me of.  Too oaky for me!

  • 2019 Estate Cabernet Franc        $35

Unlike the earlier cab franc we had, this one is aged in oak, which gave it some nice tannins, but I wish it had more fruitiness. 

From the tasting room you can peer into part of the winemaking facility.

Reasons to visit:  good lunch place (no outside food allowed), with excellent thin-crust pizzas and an interesting menu of other snacks; pretty outside garden area, with plenty of room for children to run around; the Field Blend White, the Estate Merlot, and the two wines that were sold out, the albariño and the Mélange de Trois.

Pellegrini: Club Time Again

September 8, 2021

Many wineries offer visitors the opportunity to join their wine club.  We have limited ourselves to two—Channing Daughters and Pellegrini—but I’ve often read the brochures of other places.  I can certainly see the advantages of wine clubs, both for the members and the wineries.  As a member, you get a regular—usually quarterly—supply of wines from a winery you have liked, plus various perks, including free tastings and/or glasses of wine, reduced prices on bottles, and invitations to or reduced prices on various events at your chosen winery, such as musical performances or catered meals.  And the winery, obviously, has a guaranteed income stream, plus a loyal following.  Win/win.

 

Living on the North Fork offers the added convenience of needing only a short drive to pick up one’s wine club selections—though I think all of them also will mail your selections to you, subject to the laws in your state. 

Another perk of living on the North Fork is the fascination of watching the vines go from winter dormancy to spring bud break to fall ripening.  Right now, the vines are beautiful.  The little newsletter which came with our club choices describes what is happening to the grapes now:

“Veraison refers to the time when the grapes begin turning color and the vines start to transport their energy from their roots into the grapes.  During this period of ripening, the acid levels in the grapes fall (particularly malic acid which leaves tartaric acid as the primary acid) and hexose sugars (glucose, fructose) begin to accumulate in the grape.  The chlorophyll in the berries is replaced by carotenoids in white varieties and xanthophylls in the reds.  The end result is that the fruit begins to get more flavorful, colorful, concentrated, and sweeter, which is crucial to making delicious wine!”

We took our four tastes to what we now think of as “our” table, out on the front lawn, on this warm, breezy day, and had a pleasant time, despite the traffic going by on Main Road.  Two other small groups sat nearby, drinking glasses of wine.  The courtyard was tented yet again, and the server noted they’d had two weddings the past weekend, and another was scheduled for the weekend to come.  We took care to try wines we’d not had the last time—easy given the menu of fourteen wines.

*2019 Gewürztraminer $24.99

This is probably the hardest wine to spell, and also one that is not always easy to like.  I liked this one, but my tasting buddy did not, proclaiming it “too sweet.”  I insisted that what he was calling sweet was actually fruitiness, and said I tasted gooseberries.  He disclaimed any knowledge of what gooseberries taste like.  We both agreed that the aroma was agreeably fruity, and there was a definite citrus flavor, like a sweetish lemon.  I noted some minerality on the finish, and that it would be good with spicy food.

*2020 REJOYCE $24.99

A blend of 65% chardonnay and 35% sauvignon blanc, this wine has a pleasant smell of freshly cut grass plus metal.  It’s definitely not sweet, with flavors of lemon (a lot) and cucumber.  It would be good with oysters or clams.

*2015 Cabernet Sauvignon         $69.99

According to the description on the placemat, this wine spends 19 months in French oak—which might have been a bit too much.  It is quite oaky, with some berry taste, but I compared it to chewing on tree bark.  My husband said it was “tangy.”  The aroma is of sweet berries and tobacco.  Maybe it needs to age longer.

*2020 East End Select Barbeque Red      $24.99

Made from 100% petit verdot grapes, but aged in steel rather than oak, this is, as the name suggests, intended as a more casual wine.  I taste berries and plums, and assert it is dry.  My tasting buddy and I diverge again, as he insists it is too sweet.  I argue that he’s seeing fruit, once again, as sweetness.  “Not in my mouth!” he replies.  Well, that’s wine tasting for you.  Disagreement is perfectly acceptable.  He also notes that he could see drinking this with cheese during cocktail hour, but not with a meal.

Reasons to visit:  good all-around winery; snacks allowed; they also sell the North Fork merlot, chardonnay, and rosé, all well-priced reliable everyday wines ($30 for three big bottles); the gewürztraminer, REJOYCE, and BBQ Red.

Bridge Lane: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

September 3, 2021

As though to compensate for all the heat and rain we encountered this summer, September is starting out pleasantly warm and dry.  It was a perfect day to go to a winery and sit outside, and, after some discussion and viewing of websites, we and our visitors decided to go to a winery in our immediate neighborhood, Bridge Lane.  Though we had all been there several times in the past, we hadn’t visited in a few years, and notably not since they did a lovely renovation of their outdoor area, with rainbow-striped tables, a pebbled surface, comfy Adirondack chairs, and a couple of shuffleboard courts.  A wooden wall and evergreen trees help screen the area from the cars whizzing past on Sound Avenue. 

Bridge Lane has several aspects that made it a good choice for us, besides its proximity.  It welcomes children, at least during the week, and has ample outdoor space for them to roam, and it also allows you to bring your own snacks.  By the way, it is right across Cox Neck Lane from a little shopping center which includes Wendy’s Deli, Pizza Rita (which has fantastic thin-crust gourmet pizzas, but is only open Thursday-Sunday—and not always then, check their Facebook page to be sure they’re not off doing a catering job), and Ali Katz Kitchen, which also has limited hours but has delicious baked goods as well as other interesting foods, such as quiche.  I think all of those places should work out a deal with Bridge Lane to offer coupons worth something off their food if you are doing a tasting or sitting there with a glass or bottle or can of wine! 

Yes, I did say can.  In what is becoming something of a trend out here, a number of wineries are offering their wines in cans, which hold about two glasses.  Bridge Lane goes further, and also offers boxes and even kegs of their wine.  This fits with their overall philosophy, which is that wine should be a fun, casual, inexpensive drink; all the bottles are $20 each.  Interestingly, they are affiliated with Lieb Cellars, which takes their wine very seriously. 

A few more comments—our visit was enhanced by the presence of Bunker, a sweet and friendly little white poodle, property of our server, who noted that they do allow dogs on the property, unlike many other wineries.  The children in our party fell in love with Bunker.  And in a nice touch, the server brought out to the tables bottles of water with paper cups.  They do have live music on weekends, but this afternoon recorded music of the Billy Joel type provided some background sounds.

If you look over the fence at the back of the tasting room and see huge metal vats, know they are not just there for Bridge Lane wines (though our server did inform us that they sell more wine than most other wineries on the North Fork).   The site also houses Premium Wine Group, which does the winemaking for a number of the smaller vineyards who don’t have their own winemaking equipment.

A tasting consists of all five of their wines for $15, and the pour is quite generous, so my tasting buddy and I were glad we had opted to share.  Our guests bought boxes of the white merlot, the chardonnay, and the red blend to take home.

*White Merlot

I liked this the best of the wines.  It is a light, citrusy, floral white, a good summer sipper, and would have gone well with the oysters from Braun’s we had the night before.

*Sauvignon Blanc

The aroma of this wine is one I don’t care for, as it has hints of kerosene. Also a scent of cut grass.  Otherwise, this is a pleasantly dry white, which would go well with scallops or a fish in a creamy sauce.

*Chardonnay

This wine gave me the opportunity to teach some of the party the word petrichor, which is the scent of earth after rain—or that smell you get in the City when you walk past an apartment building on a hot day and the doorman is out there washing off the sidewalk.  One guest and I agreed that the taste of this was like a not-quite-ripe nectarine or yellow plum, with some pleasant minerality.  Again, this is a light, dry wine.

*Rosé

A couple of days ago we had local duck breast and drank a Channing Daughters rosé made from syrah grapes with it.  This rosé is not nearly as tasty.  It has a slight strawberry aroma, and is extremely light and dry, without much fruit flavor.  “It would be good in a kir,” observed one guest.

*Red Blend

So if you got a pizza from Pizza Rita, this would be the perfect wine to drink with it.  Like all the other wines, it is light and dry and easy to drink; it’s a good pizza/pasta wine.  It’s a good red for non-red-wine drinkers.

Reasons to visit:  pleasant outdoor seating areas; reasonably priced wine and tasting, with a generous pour; the white merlot, the chardonnay, and the red blend; snacks are allowed; dogs are allowed; children are allowed; Bunker!

Osprey’s Dominion: Easy to Drink

July 1, 2021

We celebrated summer by heading to Osprey’s Dominion, after spotting an osprey on his or her nest and taking it as an omen.  On this warm summer early afternoon, the capacious tasting room was empty, and only a couple of tables were occupied outside on the pleasant patio. They still seem to be operating on the pandemic model, with a bunch of tables in the tasting room taken up by a varied selection of gift items, many of them unrelated to wine.  Not sure why.

In general, we like their wines, and during lockdown we drank many bottles of their Richmond Creek label, a very reasonably priced and quite drinkable collection.  So this time we opted for other wines on their flight menu. 

Two hard-working gentlemen (they were busy taking phone reservations for groups and unpacking boxes, in addition to serving flights) behind the bar handed us a menu and a paper with circles, where we were to specify which wines we wanted in our flight.  I know to order tastes from lightest or driest to most flavorful, but not everyone does, so it’s too bad no guidance was offered.  The problem is, if you taste, for example, a wine like an oaked chardonnay before a light wine like their sauvignon blanc, the sauv will seem to have no taste. The tastings are $15 for five or $10 for three, your choice from a menu of 23 wines.  They also offer wines by the glass, and a small menu of snack items. One of those was a Boar’s Head platter, of sliced meats and chips, which we know was fresh because the truck had just pulled up outside.  However, we asked about chips, which they did not have, and instead offered us bags of Wheat Thins, which we took, and for which they did not charge us.  They do still allow you to bring your own picnic, and, apparently, dog, since we saw one on the patio.

Ten wines seemed like more than we wanted to drink, so we opted for two tastings, one of five and one of three.  As it happened, the tastes were so small that I think we could have handled five and five.  We carried our trays outside, where a slight breeze made it pleasant, as we listened to soft rock of the James Taylor variety on the loudspeakers.  They have a gazebo out in the garden, labeled cutely “Grand Ole Osprey,” where they have live music on the weekends and Friday evenings.

  1.  2020 Sauvignon Blanc   $19

Our first taste was a perfect summer sipper, their light pleasant steel-fermented sauvignon blanc.  It has a sweet, flowery aroma and tastes of slightly sweetened lime.

  • 2014 Gewurztraminer   $19

You never know what you’re going to get with a gewurtz, as I’ve had both sweet and dry varieties.  This one is not sweet.  It has a bit of the cat pee smell one often encounters, plus some minerality.  My tasting buddy summed it up by saying it “wants to be sweet but isn’t.” Interesting.

  • 2019 Rosé          $19

Many rosés have lovely aromas of strawberries or other fruit, but this one has almost no smell.  However, it is a very drinkable dry rosé, with a touch of citrus, maybe Meyer lemon, and some tropical fruit, perhaps guava.

  •  2012 Merlot     $22

There are many, many merlots on the North Fork, and this one is similar to most, with its cherry aroma, but with another taste we couldn’t quite identify. It’s a simple, casual red, with some tannins. 

  • 2015 Cabernet Franc      $24

I insist this smells like macerated blackberries, at which my husband shrugs.  It is dry, with soft tannins, another easy-to-drink wine.  My husband says “tangy,” at which I shrug.

  • 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon           $22

We agree we like this one better, from the aroma of berries and flowers to the flavor of mixed berries.  Lots of tannins, so perhaps it could age even more. 

  • 2017 Malbec     $30

Despite the higher price, we would choose any of the preceding reds over this one, which we decide needs more oomph.  My tasting buddy observes that he wouldn’t have thought it was a malbec.  On the other hand, it is another drinkable wine.

  • 2014 Meritage “Flight”  $30

This is a blend, probably of cabernet franc and merlot, and a banner over the bar boasts that it has won awards, so I order it, though originally I was going to end with the petit verdot.  The aroma includes cherry and tobacco, and it tastes of cherries and oak, with more taste than smell.  This is one more in the list of unchallenging, easy-to-drink wines.

Reasons to visit: large tasting room and outside patio areas; all the wines are drinkable, if unchallenging; they allow you to bring a picnic and your pooch (outside), which many places no longer do; music on the weekends; we liked the sauvignon blanc and the cabernet sauvignon best.

Doggie!
I assume this outdoor bar is in anticipation of bigger crowds.

Croteaux: Back to the Garden

June 24, 2021

Friends often ask me which wineries they should go to.  My answer always is, it depends on what you like, but if they want to sit outside in a pretty setting and feel relaxed, Croteaux is my go-to recommendation.  Since I recommend it so frequently, I felt I needed to visit it early on in my renewed project to visit all the wineries!  As my husband likes to say, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Well, I am happy to report that Croteaux continues to be a good choice for the above reasons.  (I was concerned because the winery has new ownership.)

It was another beautiful June day, and we started by running an errand in Greenport and walking around town.  As they did last summer, the town has partially blocked off Front Street so that restaurants and stores can expand their seating and displays.  Lots of outdoor tables and minimal traffic make eating outside here an attractive prospect.  We will be back! 

Front Street in Greenport is now lined with outdoor tables.

The next decision was where to go for a tasting.  According to their website, we did not need a reservation for Croteaux, so off we went.  They have slightly revamped their entry and exit procedures, so you enter directly from the parking lot via the opening in a barn building, where a pleasant young woman walked us to a table.  She brought with her a bottle of water and two glasses, a nice touch. We sipped the water as we waited a short time for our waitress—it is all table service. When you leave and it’s time to pay, you go through a little vestibule which used to be both the exit and entrance, and would get quite crowded, but now was easy to navigate.  Checks are handed out tied to clam or oyster shells, a smart move, since this keeps them from blowing away.

The tasting menu, accessed via a QR code on the table, offered two choices—in addition to individual glasses.  You can try all six of their still rosés for $25, or their three sparkling rosés for $20.  They only make rosés, by the way.  We opted to share the still wines, plus a basket of sliced baguette and a soft Boursin-like cheese for $12, since it was lunch time.  They have a nice little menu of snacks, including some more substantial offerings like lobster roll sliders for $22 for two servings.  (The still wines are $35-$39 per bottle, and sparklers $45-$49.)

Our tastes arrived, three glasses each in two pottery saucers, with the varieties listed beneath the glasses, and we were instructed to taste counterclockwise from a particular spot—or not, depending on what we liked to do!  But I would recommend going in that order, from lightest to strongest, since otherwise a light wine might be overshadowed by a more forceful cousin.  As we sipped and munched, enjoying both our drinks and our snack, we watched the antics of two little dogs which a couple at a nearby table had brought with them.

  1.  Chloe

This is their lightest wine, barely tinged with pink, and is described on the menu as a “white wine drinker’s rosé,” which I can see.  It smells like honeysuckle, and has nice tropical fruit flavors.

  • Merlot 3

The name of this and a couple of other wines refers to the clone of merlot used to make them.  This has a flowery aroma that is quite pleasant, and is also tasty.  Like all their rosés, it is dry, in the French style.  I was trying to decide what I tasted when my tasting buddy suggested mandarin oranges.  Exactly.

  • Merlot 181

Unlike the previous two, this wine has barely any aroma.  It is light and refreshing, a good sipper for a warm day, with a slight strawberry taste and lots of minerality.

  • Merlot Sauvage

If you know French, you may wonder what could be wild about a wine.  The answer is, the yeast.  Instead of using the known quantity of a yeast they have bought, winemakers will sometimes use the indigenous yeast which is found on all grapes, giving them less control over the final product but often delicious results.  Channing Daughters makes a wine they call L’Enfant Sauvage, which uses wild yeast.  This one has a woodsy aroma, a light pink color, and a definite taste of watermelon (which reminded me of a recent taste I had of watermelon infused with a Negroni).  Mouth-watering.

  • Merlot 314

Not sure why, but the menu labels this “bistro-style.”  This is my husband’s least favorite of the day, though it is certainly drinkable.  It has hints of lemon/lime and tangerine.

  • Jolie

Pretty is an apt name for this deep pink wine, with lots of strawberry aroma and taste.  It has more depth than the other rosés, with touches of minerals and herbs, and reminded me of strawberries macerated with white wine.  The menu calls it a “red wine lover’s rosé.”

Reasons to visit: lovely garden setting; pleasant laid-back vibe (the speakers were playing reggae-inflected and soft rock music while we were there); lots of easy-to-drink rosés; nice menu of snacks; I especially liked the Chloe, the Sauvage, and the Jolie; dogs!

Pellegrini: In the Club

June 17, 2021

Quite a few years ago, on a gray wine-soaked winter afternoon, we joined the Pellegrini wine club, for reds only, because they tended to make better reds than some of the other East End wineries.  In general, that still holds true, though we were a bit disappointed in the current selections.  Due to the pandemic, we had not done a tasting at Pellegrini for two years, but we’ve been picking up our wine club bottles regularly, and most of what we’ve gotten has been fine, so I guess it was just this time’s two choices. 

As we parked in the lot, after having encountered a surprising amount of traffic, I started quoting James Russell Lowell’s famous lines, “And what is so rare as a day in June?/Then, if ever, come perfect days,” and commenting that it was about time they came true.  What a month, with the weather alternating between rainy and chilly and too hot to step outside, but this day was finally fine, which is why we decided it was time to sit outside and taste some wine.  Pellegrini has a small tasting room, but a large central patio—often tented for private celebrations—and tables out on their front and back lawns.  They do allow you to bring your own snacks, and no longer serve the little bags of oyster crackers that used to come with every tasting.

Another change is that they have a set menu for a tasting, of four wines for $16:  the 2019 Rosé, 2019 Steel Chardonnay, 2018 Cabernet Franc, and 2020 Barbeque Red.  Since we are in the club, I wanted to taste the wines that were in our current shipment, and so substituted the Steakhouse Red and 2015 Petit Verdot for the reds.  (Our tasting, of course, was free.)  You used to be able to choose from a large number of wines and try six or seven of them.  Change, as they say, is the one constant.

As we approached the door, an employee greeted us and directed us to a table on the front lawn, where I seated myself with my back to the traffic.  We gave her our order, and she brought us our four tastes on a tray, atop a labeled tray liner.

  1. 2019 Rosé          $24.99

This is a 77% merlot, 23% cabernet sauvignon blend, with a slight strawberry aroma with a trace of something metallic or chemical.  It’s a dry rosé, with some tastes of pineapple, which I like.  My tasting buddy says he detects a bit of a vegetable taste.  Maybe.  Nice, but I prefer the North Fork Rosé, also made by Pellegrini, which they sell for $30 for three one-liter bottles.  And while we’re on the subject, the North Fork brand also includes a very nice chardonnay and a merlot, both very good buys and quite drinkable.

  • 2019 Steel Chardonnay $19.99

No aroma at all!  I think I prefer steel-fermented chardonnays to oak-fermented, in general, but this one is a bit too austere.  Maybe what I actually like is slightly oaked chards.  This has a lot of lemon-lime flavor, which would make it a good accompaniment to coquilles St. Jaques.  As it sits and warms up a bit, I like it better.

  • Steakhouse Red               $19.99

A blend of 72% cabernet sauvignon and 28% merlot, this is a simple, dry red that would go well with burgers or meatloaf, but is not much fun to drink on its own.  It smells better than it tastes.

  • 2015 Petit Verdot           $29.99

Sometimes I like wines made from petit verdot, and sometimes I do not.  This is an “I do not.”  The aroma is nice, brambly, with maybe a touch of salt, but the wine is very dry and tannic, with almost no fruit flavor.  My husband sums it up as, “Just a glass of wine.”  Oh well.

Reasons to go:  pleasant outdoor area and intimate tasting room; well-priced wines; you can bring a snack; drinkable wines, though we were not excited about today’s selection.

The view to the courtyard, with my mask in the foreground. On the 17th, they were still asking visitors to wear a mask inside, until they were seated, but obviously I took it off in order to taste the wine.

Rose Hill: A Rose By Any Other Name

May 21, 2021

A recent trend in the North Fork wine country is the takeover of wineries by new owners, who often change the name.  So Martha Clara is now RG/NY, and Shinn is now Rose Hill.  Pretty name.  And the new owners have made some nice changes to the place, too.  I didn’t go inside, but the outdoor patio area is lovely, paved with flagstones and shaded by big umbrellas, with one area in the sun if you are so inclined.  It was a perfect day to sit outside, brightly sunny and just breezy enough to make a sweater or sweatshirt welcome.

We were there with my brother and sister-in-law, visiting from upstate, now that we are all vaxxed.  What a delight to hug people again!  We decided to try Rose Hill because it was new, a bit off the beaten path—it’s on Oregon Road—and they serve a variety of lunchy snacks.  According to the web page, you need to make a reservation, which we did, through Open Table (one of my favorite apps), but it turned out not to be necessary.  Still, I would make reservations as long as occupancy is limited, so you don’t get turned away. 

Several hand-written signs in the parking area (which is quite small, by the way; they should consider ways to make more spaces) direct you to go around to the back for the entrance to the tasting room.  A few parking spaces are reserved for the B&B, in a house at the front of the property.  Around the back, the soft splash of fountains frames the entrance to the patio, where a server indicated we could choose any seat we wanted.  We took a nicely sized table for four, and a very pleasant young woman rushed over to clean it off before we sat down.  A nice touch—Rose Hill has continued the Shinn practice of putting large bottles of chilled water plus glasses on the table.

The menu is accessed through a QR code card on the table, and by the time a waiter came by to ask us if we’d “had time” to look at it—clearly expecting this table of people of a certain age not to know what to do with a QR code—we had read it and decided on our order.  They offer two different flights, which have one overlap, both consisting of five wines for $24, so each couple got one flight to share, which was plenty to drink.  We also got the cheese and charcuterie board for $26 and a basket of roasted sweetened nuts for $11, both of which were very good.  Another nice touch—the disposable plates are made of bamboo, which means they are recyclable. 

We had a pleasant afternoon, sitting and talking and catching up on a year’s worth of news, but our one disappointment was the wine.  No wine was undrinkable, but no wine seemed worth the cost.  Since my brother wanted to buy a couple of wines to take back as thank you gifts, we drove over the Vintage wine shop after the tasting.

Classic Flight

* 2019 Sparkling Rosé      $42

My flight started with a slight, pleasant sparkler, made with the méthode champenoise.  It has a typical bready aroma and a bit of sweetness, plus citrus.

  • 2019 Coalescence           $25

We had liked the Shinn version of this wine, by the same name, and the aroma was promising, nicely flowery.  However, this blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot blanc, riesling, and semillon lacked depth and complexity, and was very soft and light, with a bit of citrus flavor.

  • 2020 Pinot Blanc            

Again, we commented that there was “not much to it.”  The wine had aromas and tastes of mineral and unripe pear.

  • 2020 Rose Hill Rosé        $28

Both flights included this merlot-based rosé, which my brother characterized as “highly ordinary,” with a “soft mouth feel” and “very little character.”  It is a very light wine, dry, in the Provençal style. 

  • Non-vintage Red Blend                $25

Since this blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec, and cabernet franc is made with grapes from both 2017 and 2018, they call it non-vintage.  It has a very piney aroma, which my brother humorously dubbed “eau de Pine-Sol.”  A bit tannic, dry, but again, lacking depth and substance.

New Release Flight

  • 2020 First Fruit                $28

Steel-fermented sauvignon blanc, very light.

  • 2020 Concrete Blond     $42

Macari also makes a wine in a concrete “egg,” in their case a rosé, while this is a sauvignon blanc.  This wine has a lovely aroma of pear and honeysuckle, and a flowery taste, though a bit sour on the end, and has “more presence” than the first wine.

  • Rose Hill Rosé

I already talked about this one.

  • 2020 Rosé          $25

This was my favorite wine of the day, a more robust merlot-based rosé, with nice strawberry flavor and aroma.

  • 2020 Cabernet Franc      $32

Though this has some nice pomegranate flavor, overall it is rather thin, with no body.  As my brother commented, “When the best thing you can say about a tasting is that the nuts are good, you have a problem.”

Reasons to visit:  Nice location a bit off the beaten track, with a lovely outdoor patio area; good cheese and charcuterie board and roasted nuts; the 2020 Rosé, and maybe the Concrete Blond.  Most of the other wines are drinkable, but not very flavorful or complex, and we felt the price/value ratio was a bit off.  You can stay in the B&B and do tastings.

Peconic County Brewing: Another County Heard From

May 13, 2021

Riverhead is becoming quite a beer-making town, with several new breweries we have yet to visit.  Now that’s a challenge I’m happy to meet.  Our friends were still here, happily, so off we went to Riverhead, hoping to combine a tasting with lunch at one of the new breweries, Peconic County, which is located in a new building, with a deck facing the Peconic River.  (Ah, commented one friend, so that’s why the town is called river-head.  Yup.) 

PCB, as it is abbreviated (I assume they do not want to suggest any ties to the chemical.), has a lovely outdoor deck, furnished with comfy blue-upholstered chairs around large square tables, as well as less inviting metal chairs around barrels or small tables. We were lucky enough to score the blue chairs, room for four.  Leaving two of us to guard the seats, we went inside to choose our flights and order food.  Inside is less inviting.  The whole industrial vibe of breweries fascinates me.  Greenport Harbor, for example, is located in a former automobile dealership, and North Fork in a former fire house, so they come by their décor naturally, but then PCB is in a brand-new building, yet has the same industrial esthetic.  I wonder why.

Anyway, we had time to scan the menus for both beers and food while the lone server worked as fast as he could to wait on a sudden spate of customers, including a number of employees of the Riverhead Aquarium, which is right next door (A place well worth a visit, if you haven’t been there—or a return visit if you have!).  But everyone was jolly and good-natured, and we didn’t mind the wait.  A flight consists of four beers, chosen from the list of ten, served in medium-sized glasses set into a wooden carrier, with little inserts on which the server puts the number of your selection, so you know what you’re drinking.

For lunch, we ordered wings and a charcuterie and cheese platter to share, while our designated driver opted for a burger and fries and a Pepsi (no Coke…).  By the way, the “toasties” on the menu are variations on grilled cheese sandwiches.  We received a buzzer which would alert us when the food was ready, and carried our beverages outside, where we found those who had been saving seats busily shedding sweaters and sweating.  PCB needs to figure out some way to shade their lovely deck, as even on this slightly cool day it was so hot in the sun that my phone overheated. 

A little while after we began tasting our beers, the buzzer went off.  We had been warned that the wings were boneless, and in fact they were more like crispy pieces of deep-fried chicken bathed in hot sauce than traditional wings, though served with the obligatory blue cheese dip and celery sticks.  Tasty, and the hot sauce was appropriately hot, though I did need to cool down my taste buds in order to assess the rest of my beers.  The cheese-and-charcuterie platter was quite generous, and we almost didn’t finish it all.  The big juicy-looking burger received a good review, and the thin fries were nice and crispy, so lunch was certainly a success. 

We liked the beers, too, though in general we feel Greenport Harbor’s are better, and overall, these were a bit sweet for our taste. Without planning, once again my friend and I had only one overlap, so we tasted seven beers in all.

  • Dream Girl IPA

I decided I had to start with this one, since they call it their “flagship” IPA.  The menu describes it as “hoppy but smooth,” and I agree.  It’s a fairly classic IPA, but a bit sweet.

  •  Big Duck Rye Saison

If you like rye bread—which I do—you’re likely to like this saison, which is flavored with rye malt.  This is a Belgian style of beer, amber in color. My friend opined that it would work well in a stew—maybe beef carbonnades.  The name, by the way, refers to the famous Big Duck, an East End landmark currently located in Flanders.

  • Colonial Amber Lager

Again, this is a classic in its category, a bit sweet and bland—though my judgment might have been clouded by my first bite of those spicy wings.  Nice to drink, especially with food.

  • Iron Pier Rocky Road Nitro Stout

The description of this dark stout includes the warning that it contains lactose, good to know for those who are lactose intolerant.  The menu has the accurate description that it is a “marshmallow and vanilla milk stout with notes of chocolate and caramel,” and that it “doesn’t taste too thick or syrup like.”  Like the Double Ducks we had at Greenport, this is not really a drink with food stout, but would be fine as a dessert or just to sip.  The name, by the way, refers not just to Rocky Road ice cream (which includes marshmallows), but a popular Riverhead beach, called Iron Pier because it has…an iron pier.

  • Hampton Haze

I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised that this was sweet-ish, since the menu describes this IPA as “soft and fruity.”

  • Dis-Orient-Ed Double IPA

Clearly a reference to the town of Orient, the name could also be a reference to the high abv—8.2%–of this IPA.  My friend called it “very IPA-ish.”

  • Flying Point Golden Ale

Another pleasant sipper, this ale has notes of tropical fruit and a bit of sweetness.  It’s good, but I like the bitterness many beers have.  The name is a reference to a beach in Southampton.

Reasons to visit:  Lovely outdoor deck overlooking the river (but only if they put up umbrellas or awnings!); convenient location next to the Riverhead Aquarium; all the beers were quite drinkable, if not my favorite style; generous cheese-and-charcuterie platter, which included pickled Brussels sprouts, plus other good food options.